Books lead to films. Read one and you’re reminded of something you watched the other day. New material refers to past releases, either directly or in roundabout ways. Genres cross over, involving similar concepts, tropes, devices. Writers and directors lift, pay tribute, re-imagine, claim as their own and take it a step further in the name of compelling art. Pick up the trail and we end up making extraordinary connections.
Welcome to Connection Degree Three …
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein… Rupert Goold’s True Story… Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster. Three stories that concern unlikely couples, pairs brought together through a set of choices that bind them in the shadow of guilt, regret, and a purgatorial future.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a tremendous sci-fi novel (the first of its kind) that hinges on the themes of legacy, scientific revolution, and the consequences of a task left incomplete. It also examines the pitfalls of dejection and disconnection, of a caring nature turned wild. It’s a seminal story on the relationship between a creator and his creation – along the lines of God and Adam, Prometheus and humanity, benefactor and beneficiary, visionary and vision – only this time the tables have turned.
The protagonist, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, creates life from dead body parts, a scientific breakthrough that changes everything, but he loses control of the narrative very quickly. Plagued by the idea that he’s given form to something unnatural, he draws back from his work and refuses to honor the Creature’s existence with an appropriate follow-through, i.e. a mate or child. Enraged, the Creature takes off, doomed to a life of loneliness in a world that will never accept it, setting the stage for a transformation so horrifying – and a malice so feral – Dr. Frankenstein’s world will never be safe again, which brings us to
True Story, a film by Rupert Goold that focuses on New York Times writer Mike Finkel and his precarious relationship with Christian Longo. Longo is waiting to stand trial for the murder of his wife and three children, but Finkel sees something noteworthy in the accused. Despite being warned against it, and eager to redeem himself from previous mistakes, the journalist commits to Longo’s version of the events, promising to write a book about it, a choice that seems brave at face value.
Longo is a curious case, a seemingly normal man plagued by a series of wrong turns and bad choices, the effects of which caught up with him in a most tragic manner. At some point in his confession he states that his wife had accused him of destroying her and their children with his actions. He tells his story with Finkel’s help, armed with the confidence he has gained from working with the writer he so admires, or so he claims. In reality, this unlikely relationship rests on a bond – a setup – that makes redemption less and less likely, which is reminiscent of
The Lobster, perhaps the strangest tale of the bunch. Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarre film deals with a society where being ‘single’ is a crime punishable by turning the offender into an animal, as one might expect of deeply disturbed, technologically advanced dystopias. David, a shortsighted man who has been recently divorced, checks into an intensive program designed to help him meet a significant other and graduate to relationship status.
But finding a partner is a complicated task, and so is playing the greater game. David has to perform a number of compromising acts to gratify the system, finding himself close to breaking point.
He eventually abandons the program and joins the Loners in the forest where he falls in love with Shortsighted Woman. The problem is Loner society doesn’t tolerate relationships. (From the frying pan to the fire, so to speak.) The punishment for breaking the rules is harsh, and it involves something worse than losing your own life i.e. something altogether nightmarish, which brings us back to
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and humanity’s tendency to fall victim to unspeakable tragedy in the name of a higher calling.
And here we are: three stories that explore a certain type of dualities, relationships that lead to a fate worse than loneliness or mediocrity, showcasing what it means to cross boundaries. Some setups – be they romantic, familial, or procedural – are catastrophic. There are grave consequences for each and every choice, involving drama all the way through.